Tears in Ebonyi State, by Prince Nwaeze Onu

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Power in the hands of a weak man is a dangerous thing. With power, he soon believes he is what he is not. In no time, the power becomes an instrument of oppression and self aggrandisement and turns him into a megalomaniac. This is tragic not only for the man but for the society at large. Such is the tragedy that has befallen Ebonyi state and David Umahi.

When Engr. David Nweze Umahi succeeded Chief Martin Elechi as governor of Ebonyi state in 2015, his only foray into public service was his one term stint as deputy to governor Martin Elechi between 2011 and 2015. In other words, he had no outstanding record or pedigree in public service. The people of Ebonyi state however had hoped that having a younger man after Chief Elechi was an advantage.

Events since Umahi assumed office have proven them wrong. How mistaken they were. Before his election, David Umahi was a weak and insecure man. And the people knew it not.
As is the case with weak men, Umahi is overwhelmed by the power and authority attached to the office he currently occupies. The unmistakable signs of a power drunk are manifesting rapidly as Ebonyi state slides into chaos. Umahi has wielded state power as a cudgel over both the opposition All Progressives Congress and members of his ruling People’s Democratic Party who have fallen out of favour with him.

His infantile desire to showcase his newfound power has led him to meddle in the affairs of organised labour in Ebonyi state, made destitute
of Ebonyi state scholarship students abroad and obliterated the constitutionally prescribed principle of separation of powers between the three arms of government in the state.

In two years, Engr. David Umahi has ditched due process and rule of law and transformed from a governor to an emperor. He has so emasculated the Ebonyi state House of Assembly that it has become a mere department in the office of the governor. As a policy of intimidation, he starves the house of funds and blackmails it into giving blanket approval to all his Bills especially the appropriation bills. The states N101.1 billion 2016 Appropriation Bill was passed in record time with little or no deliberation. For 2017, it is N127.2 billion and we expect more or less a rubber stamp approval by the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly has been forced to abdicate it’s constitutional duty as a check on executive power.

Ebonyi state is poorer as a result. Under David Umahi, the drive to develop human capital and build capacity in the labour force has suffered a reversal. The policy of compulsory free primary and secondary education which was introduced by Dr. Sam Egwu and continued by Chief Martin Elechi administrations seem to have been abandoned by Engr. Umahi. Tuition and other sundry fees have surreptitiously crept back into the school system and parents are groaning under the impact. School enrolment is also beginning to suffer as a result.

Most worrisome however is the plight of Ebonyi state students currently studying abroad under the state’s scholarship scheme for higher education. In the two years that Umahi has been governor, the state has failed to release money for the payment of bursary to the beneficiaries of its scholarship scheme who are studying in institutions of higher learning across the globe. Most of the students are now denied access to school hostels, libraries and classrooms while some have already been de-registered and awaiting deportation by their host country. There are reports that some have taken to crime to avoid starvation and sustain their studies.

This dire situation was recently brought to the fore when about 120 Ebonyi state students recently demonstrated on the streets of Manchester City in the United Kingdom. They were protesting to register their frustration over the decision of the government of Ebonyi state to abandon them after sending them out to study in a foreign land. Some of the placards displayed by the students read “Ebonyi students are homeless abroad”, “Ebonyi government, your students are stranded in the Uk”. “Sponsored students are humans, Not rags”. The students were led by the president of Nigerian Students Society (NSS), Olalere Olaide and marched from University of Salford to Media city and BBC in Manchester. It was an ugly spectacle.

This is happening even as the governor is busy constructing a stadium of a house in his Uburu country home.

Governor Umahi has also succeeded in breaking the ranks of labour leaders in the state and created schism in the state chapter of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) over the newly minted Contributory Pensions Law. Labour leaders including Ikechukwu Nwafor of NLC, Michael Nwonu of Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Patrick Ekwe of JPSNC had rightly accused the state government of secretly deducting from workers salaries well before sending the Contributory Pensions Bill to the House of Assembly for consideration and passage into law. It is their contention that the bill was only rushed through the rubber stamp House to legitimise the illegal deductions from workers salaries. But now, Ugwuru Uchenna, a renegade labour leader and chairman of Junior Workers Association, Ebonyi state chapter stands with the government and daily rails against the aforementioned labour leaders and his superiors.

Such is the disarray in the state chapter of the NLC that the Enugu state chapter is now the lone voice advocating for the welfare of workers in Ebonyi state!

The governors megalomania has now transcended beyond being meddlesome into illegality. His recent indefinite suspension of the former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Augustine Nwankwuegu for negligence and the instantaneous appointment of Uwabunkonye Onwosi to act in his place as Attorney General was the height of illegality. He sidestepped the House of Assembly in the appointment process in contravention of the constitution which subjects such appointment to confirmation by the House. This is beside the point that the constitution, which David Umahi swore to protect, has no provision for Acting Commissioner.

In what can only be described as executive recklessness, citizens have their properties demolished and their lands taken over by government without due process under questionable claims of acquisition for overriding public interest.

Yet two years into the life of the Umahi administration, there is no visible addition to state infrastructure other than the over priced and largely unnecessary three overhead bridges around the state capital.

As governor Umahi charges around the state like a bull in a China shop, it is pertinent to remind him that true power belongs to the people. The people of Ebonyi state and posterity will surely have the last laugh on this blip that his administration represents on Ebonyi state’s March to greatness.

Prince Nwaeze Onu can be reached via [email protected]

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